At just their second meeting, the teenage foster youth told his new CASA volunteer, “I love you.”

“I love you, too,” responded the CASA, James Allison.

The brief exchange spoke volumes. It made it clear that the youth, who has been in and out of several foster homes, had accepted James as his advocate and even friend. It also showed that James was committed to the boy.

“These kids need that assurance,” James said.

Two years into their relationship, James and his youth remain bonded. James is now helping him get ready to transition out of foster care and into independent living.

“I’ve been teaching him how to cook,” said James, who elicits love as well as respect.

“Oh, we’ve butted heads a couple times,” James said. But, he quickly added, they are always able to talk things out. James said the boy has repeatedly told him, “You’re the father I never had.’”

Most foster children never had a father in their lives. They have been neglected, abused and often abandoned by their biological parents, moms and dads.

James, who runs his own business – providing voice overs for such products as corporate websites, audio books and educational videos – said he became a CASA volunteer largely to help address the lack of male role models for black youth.

“I wanted to help,” James said.

James encourages others to become a CASA volunteer, “but only if you do it for the right reasons.”

“If you are there to burnish your resume, don’t do it,” he said. “Don’t waste your time or the youth’s time.”

 “If you do it, make sure you are ready to commit and keep your promises. These kids don’t need more disappointments,” James said. “They need someone who they can rely on.”